Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Will Parker's "Four Branches of the Mabinogi"

I have been given a copy of Will Parker's greatly anticipated study of the Mabinogion to go through. I say anticipated when in fact I mean something more akin to voraciously hungered for. I heard about this book several months ago whilst looking over his site and have been itching to get hold of a copy. A while back several extract were posted up on his website and these whetted the appetite significantly. At this point I should warn that the hyperbole and superlative will become excessive. I make no apologies for this, especially as this book deserves each and every word of praise levelled at it.

The four branches of the Mabinogi

This is a mammoth book, at over 600 packed pages. What sets it apart from any other of it's type is that Will has formed a synthesis of the mythic material with it's sources with interpretations, added to this he has placed the whole mabinogi within the context of prehistory and medieval history and politics. This effectively means that the mabinogi is studied in the context of the people with which it arose, evolved and developed with prior to its eventual committal to parchment.

Last night I read through the second chapter concerning the first branch. This book is stunning. He has taken the individual branches and clothed them in a colourful series of leaves, twigs and buds. his means of treating the mabinogi is astounding, the work that must have gone into this book defies comprehension. It is going to take me a while to read the book in all, especially with work at the moment. however, I cannot wait to get more reading in. Once done I think I will start all over again but make notes also. This is a bittersweet time - I have in front of me a wonderful work which I want to devour and read from cover to cover, however I also want to absorb it fully. I cannot do both at once which is terribly frustrating. Patience.

HIGHLY recommended. I suggest buying it straight from the author via his website.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Changing Cosmologies

This is a rather ill formed thought at the moment. Something that needs further pondering and reshaping. The current cosmology is that the harvest represents the strength of the sun god being expended to the earth goddess and the fruit of that union is the grain itself (plus the later fruit harvest). It is the sacrifice of the sun god, the blood on the corn, the giving of himself for the benefit of feeding and sustaining. From this point he weakens greatly, almost to death up until Halloween at which he passes into the Underworld. He returns again and grows in strength from yule onwards.

This is the standard cosmology that interprets the interaction of the mythic with the wheel of the year (though you may not accept this modern contruct you should at least be able to see it as a model to rationalise the changing and cyclic seasons). So, where do we stand with climate change. We are told to expect damper summers and milder winters. How will the cosmology change if at all?

Lammas at Lee Valley

Last night I got back from the coven gathering for Lammas. What a bloody washout. After a teaching session on Friday which included a number of light-bulb moments we had a greasy spoon breakfast and headed off to Lee Valley in Hertfordshire. We couldn’t check into the youth hostel till after 2pm so had a wander round the town itself. Nothing special had a couple of pints and picked up some food and bits at the Tesco. What I did notice at the hostel was that the river Lee after which the valley gets its name was originally the Lug or Lea. The Lug name was the most interesting, especially considering the festival we were about to celebrate.

It didn’t feel like Lammas, in fact I wonder if Lammas as such will happen this year at all. The weather has been horrific and the crops must be largely spoiled. Well, that was something worth remembering during the ritual. Once checked into the hostel we found we had a lovely big en suite room with a balcony. All our belongings were dropped off and we had a chat – including a discussion on the changing cosmology for this year with regards to the foul weather and the harvest being poor. The rain eased off and we went hunting for a ritual site. The hunt was not good. That area is largely waterways and lakes with narrow marshy land interspersed amongst it. To cap it all off the bloody rain started pissing down again. It was not going well.

Then, on the way back towards the hostel I saw the only oak tree seen thus far, next to it a small path leading off into the trees. Could it be? We walked a few yards down the path and a fox bounded into view ahead of us and then bounded off down the path away from us. This was significant. Really, it was. Ahead we found a lovely clearing next to a path and on the path underneath an overhanging beech was a wooden seat. This seemed like just the place, admittedly it was possible someone would come along, but at night with such disagreeable weather it was unlikely we would be bothered. This was it, perfection. Then the rain started again with a fury that soaked us all to the skin. We trudged off back to the hostel, the idea of an outdoor ritual disappearing like the sun behind the black rain clouds.

In the end we conducted the ritual indoors in the spacious and dry room at the hostel. Drinks were raised for those who needed it, for causes that needed attention and for Lug that he return next year with his usual vigour. Once the celebration was done we had a party (and by that I do mean cake, picnic and paper plates) for L’s birthday and drank plenty of wine. Joy of joys, S made warm rum bananas on the disposable BBQ we had on the balcony.

After rising fairly early for a meagre breakfast and to check out, we headed for the nearby town of Royston to see the Knights Templar cave with its early Christian carvings. Very beautiful indeed carved into the surrounding chalk. Some of the pre-Christian symbols were very eye opening, especially the horse carved next to a vulgar Sheela na Gig.

To round the day off, we bought picnic food and headed to common land outside of Royston, and sat upon tumuli and ate well, then after a snooze in the sunshine I spent some time gazing through the wild grasses at the blue skies above, fluffy white clouds skipping along on the breeze and wondered why the hell it could not have been like this the day before. It was nothing short of a magical few minutes with nothing but me, the wind in the grass, birds singing nearby and a beautiful summer afternoon

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Calan Awst/Lammas

This summer has been very odd indeed. It is now the middle of July and there are conkers on the horse chestnuts that line my walk to work. The rowan up the road has had berries on for weeks. The summer came very early and it was back at the beginning of April I think I saw the first may-blossom. Since then the weather has been scorching hot and sodden with rain. It has been very odd indeed.

This then brings me to Lammas. This coming weekend the coven will be having a get-together to have our Lammas celebration. Normally I would think it is a little early, especially as I am one of those people who likes to take their festival cues from the land around me, this year I think it might not be too far off time wise. Certainly the harvests are going to be affected by the recent rain but other then that I feel the harvest is not too far off. There are some stray wheat-like grasses growing around the city and they all turned golden 2 weeks ago.

So what is Lammas/Calan Awst to me?

It is the harvest. Back home they will be harvesting the barley and making the straw. And I can see why there was a celebration after that was finished! There are plenty of traditional customs to do with the last of the harvest and the process itself, mainly to do with the last of the sheaths of grain. These days it is about remembering that all I have, all I have achieved and all that lives is built upon the blood of sacrifice. The blood on the corn. The sun has given its strength and weakened, just as the people would spill their sweat and blood to bring in the grain and straw to ensure their own future.

The sun is weakening, the days are getting shorter. The summer is still here and it will still be warm for many weeks yet, however it is clear that the tide has turned and the balmy, blissful last touch of the sun is on its way to be followed by the bite of Calan Gaeaf.

Sunday, 15 July 2007


Bloody ASDA didn't have any bloody compost so my bloody plants cant be potted out which means I cant pot them out now till at least tuesday. Bloody buggering hell. They have had big bags of compost by the tills for months, but now when the weather gets nice and people want to do outdoors gardening things they stop bloody selling it.

Bloody Hell.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Two uses for a horse skull

I find myself blogging on here and awful lot, far more than I was originally thinking I would. I also find myself working on two subjects at once and neglecting other studies. Ok, I think I should tie up some loose ends now and then get on with other things.
First of all I want to get my thoughts on the horse skull as a cult object out in the open. As I have mentioned, I am very much a physical person and tend to use physical object as a focus and ‘starting point’. My current inclination is towards the plant Rhiannon and as such wanted to use a horse skull as a focal point, in fact the altar which will serve as a cult focus. The skull itself is a by-product of the food industry (the body went to France – not on holiday) and to my mind what I have done in using it is not immoral or dishonourable. Rhiannon is a sovereignty goddess and like many other sovereignty deities in Europe is associated with horses. You could say that she is a horse herself, in fact it is rather likely that she was even more hippomorphic in the original mythos. I don’t think that the argument that we don’t eat horses in the UK because they were taboo hold much water, they were far more useful alive than as food and I’m sure at some point they were eaten in times of need. It is the same with cats and dogs – these animals were workers, not food.

To my mind, by having a horse skull forms a link to the horse goddess. It is not as if I went out and killed it purely for this purpose, I simply made use of a spare part. This is my reasoning, I am comfortable with it and in time when I start to use the skull, I am sure that Rhiannon herself will let me know if this displeases her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now, to the Mari Lwyd. The current tradition is that the ML was thrown out of the stable of the nativity and is wandering to find a place to stay. An alternative is that it is a retelling of Mary and Joseph’s wandering to Egypt with her divine child. Take a step back in time to Greece. Demeter wandered the earth looking for her kidnapped daughter Persephone, at one point taking the form of a horse and subsequently mated with the sea god also in horse form. A quick digression here – Teyrnon Twrfliant is clearly a sea god (the epithet Raging Sea gives that away) and his original lady friend was Rhiannon the horse goddess, their child can be seen as the divine child who was kidnapped by otherworld forces. This looks awfully familiar to the Demeter episode. The only missing part is Rhiannon’s wandering to find her lost son. The ML’s wandering from home to home as the grey mare at winter shares a parallel with the Demeter myth, especially in the sense that Demeter’s wandering caused winter to come for the first time as nobody was around to tend to the land in her absence. The wasteland/winter theme still arises in the third branch when Pryderi and Rhiannon are kidnapped for a second time.

So, to tie up my rambling, perhaps what we have here is a continuation of a Rhiannon myth in which she is wandering the landscape searching for her son. These themes have continued into the Christian tradition associated with the ML. to me it looks like a very interesting connection, though whether I can convince others is another matter.

Mari Lwyd - Discussion

Ettlinger, E. 1944. The Occasion and Purpose of the Mari Lwyd. Man, 44; 89-93.

Peate, I. C. 1943. Mari Lwyd: a suggested explanation. Man, 43; 53-58.

Peate, I. C 1939. Mari Lwyd: a further note. Man, 39; 32.

Peate, I. C. 1935. A Welsh Wassail-Bowl: With a Note on the Mari Lwyd. Man, 35; 81-82.

I have managed to get hold of these four essays from an online source with a view to looking at the academic opinion of the Mari Lwyd tradition. The tradition as we know it is fairly straight forward, however I am interested in it's origins and what it's early significance might have been. Of particular interest are the alternative names for the Mari Lwyd; the 'Grey Mare' and the "Aderyn Pig Llwyd", or the 'Bird with the Grey Beak'. These two certainly hint at a tradition older than that of the connection with the virgin mary. The horse and bird association strikes a chord with me with regards to a particular hippomorphic sovereignty goddess, though whether this is justified or not remains to be seen.

Peate's first piece (1935) is an overview of an occurrence of a wassailing cup. He makes mention of the fact that wassailing generally accompanied the Mari Lwyd procession. He also mentions the widespread appearance of the Mari Lwyd, even up until 1934 in Swansea outside a chemist.

Peate's 1939 short communication he tells of further research which back sup his assertation from 1934 that the Mari Lwyd was originally widespread even though the remnants are much more limited. He talks of a piece from 1798 which talks of the Mari Lwyd in use in north Wales as a Christmas/New Year custom. The final mention he gives is to a communication with a colleague regarding the name Mari Lwyd itself. In the earlier piece he said that it had become associated with the virgin mary in the medieval period in a nice piece of syncretism. However, he mentions communication with friends who tell him that the form 'Mari' is unknown in welsh literature prior to the protestant reformation. That of course is not the case as the name 'Mari' appears in the Black Book of Carmarthen which is approximately 300 years older than the reformation. Anyway, the long and short of the matter is that he concludes that until shown otherwise, the name 'Mari Lwyd' means 'Holy Mary'. If that is the case, then I would be interested to know how the horse skull became associated with her, I have an inkling on the matter.

Peate's 1943 discussion is a much fuller account and investigation into the origin of the name Mari Lwyd and what actually occurred as part of the Mari Lwyd processions. Included in the essay is this passage of note:

It has been suggested (by my wife, to whom
I am grateful for drawing my attention to the
possibility) that Mari may be nothing more than
a borrowal of the English mare, which was (as in
nightmare) a female monster supposed to settle
upon people to pound them to suffocation.
Professor W. J. Gruffydd informs me that down to
about 1400, mare in English would be regularly
pronounced mari. The form could have been
borrowed unchanged into Welsh, the adjective
lwyd, in such a case, having its ordinary meaning
of ' grey.'
There is much to be said for this suggestion.
The consistent feature of the Mari Lwyd, as of
associated customs farther afield, was that it was
meant to frighten and to horrify (cf. ' night '-
mare), and at least one case of death from fright
is known from Wales (see below). It may be
noted further that the horse is referred to in the
traditional verses as Y Fari and even Y Feri, i.e.
always in the feminine and without the adjective.
Mari Lwyd, therefore, may,& nothing more than
the ' Grey Mare.'

It is interesting to note that there was an element of encouraging the spring to return in some of the rhymes and songs sung as this stanza from one song suggests:

Roedd yn ddefod mynd a gwirod
Gwyl fair forwyn ddechre gwanwyn.

It was a custom to bear drink at the Feast of the
Virgin Mary at the beginning of spring.

This element has been used as a suggestion that the pre-Christian aspect of this custom was all about welcoming back or encouraging the spring.

The final essay I have read was Ettlinger's 1944 offering. This is an in depth and involved piece which i cannot really summaries here and do it justice. Suffice to say that she makes an excellent case for the Mari Lwyd originally being the 'Grey mare', the Nightmare and a figure associated with death, the dead and the otherworld. She makes the case that Calan Gaeaf/Halloween would have been the original time when this spectral horse would have wandered the land of the living. I find this last essay to be the most intriguing, particularly when taken alongside some of the work put forward by Peate in his last 1943 essay, notably the italicized paragraph above.

My own personal digestions of these works will have to come soon.

Friday, 13 July 2007

The Mari Lwyd

The tradition of leading around the Mari Lwyd still goes on today in south Wales and also in some parts of west Wales. The example I know of is in the Gwaun Valley in north Pembrokeshire.Marie Trevalyan wrote about this winter tradition in her 1909 book on Welsh folklore and customs:

The Mari Llwyd, or "Holy Mary," was an exhibition made up of mummers dressed in all kinds of garments. The most prominent figure was a man covered with a white sheet. On his head and shoulders he bore a horse's head, fantastically adorned with coloured ribbons, papers, and brilliant streamers. Youths bearing burning brands, and small boys dressed up as bears, foxes, squirrels, and rabbits, helped to swell the throng. In some parts of Wales, in the far past, it was customary for a woman to impersonate the Virgin, while Joseph and the infant Christ were prominent. But in later times these three characters were omitted, and a kind of Punch and Judy exhibition was substituted. The Mari Llwyd was always accompanied by a large party of men, several of whom were specially selected on account of their quick wit and ready rhymes. The mode of proceeding was always the same. All doors in the parish were safely shut and barred when it was known that the Mari Llwyd commenced her itinerary. When the party reached the doors of a house an earnest appeal was made for permission to sing. When this was granted, the company began recounting in song the hard fate of mankind and the poor in the dark and cold days of winter. Then the leading singer would beg those inside to be generous with their cakes and beer and other good things. It was customary for the householder to lament and plead that, alas! times had been bad with him, and he had little to spare. Then began a kind of conflict in verse, sung or recited, or both. Riddles and questions were asked in verse inside and outside the house. Sarcasm, wit, and merry banter followed, and if the Mari Llwyd party defeated the householder by reason of superior wit, the latter had to open the door and admit the conquerors. Then the great bowl of hot spiced beer was produced, and an ample supply of cakes and other good things. The feast began and continued for a short time, and when the Mari Llwyd moved away the leader found contributions of money in his collecting bag.

Many specimens of the introductory rhymes, the challenge from without, the reply from within, together with the verses sung when the Mari Llwyd entered the house, and afterwards departed, are still preserved and well remembered.

When the Mari Llwyd was badly treated, the revenge of the party was boisterous. In some places the men forced an entrance, raked the fire out of the kitchen grate, looted the larder, and committed other depredations.

Some people think that the bony horses head used in what is called the "Mari Llwyd" celebration was an emblem of death, or a symbol of the dead, and not a remnant of pre-Reformation days and the Virgin Mary.

I have been told that in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries this celebration was called in many parts of Wales the "Mari Llwyd," meaning the "Grey Death," a symbol of the dying or dead year.

The skeleton head and shoulders and the skull of the horse, accompanied by a procession of sight-seers and dancers, point to the Mari Llwyd celebrations as a lingering vestige of ancient horse worship common to the Celts, Teutons, and Slavs.


My mandrake seedlings are doing really well. I was given them by a friend at the Beltane Bash this year. I was given four but two went to live with my good friend Claire in the hope that at least two will survive. My last attempt at growing mandrake seedlings was a disaster. This time they were already looking good when i got them, a little water, a few words to Amaethon and a drop of my own blood and they seem to be thriving. They really need re-potting and putting out into the garden. They daily reach for the window where the sunlight streams in. At some point this weekend I will buy the compost to go with the two large pots/tubs they will be housed in for the near future. I should also find out exactly they need to grow for before they can be uprooted and 'used'. That in itself will be a task.

Cultic Skull

I am one of those people who likes physical things, perhaps it is the Taurean in me (if i went for the whole astrology bollocks) who wants to have objects to touch and focus on. Many people on the pagan scene will tell you that these things are just trappings and are totally unnecessary. I agree with them to an extent. You don't 'need' anything really, it is all about you and your mind. However, having these physical representations are very helpful, they help focus the mind, they help ground us and bring us to a central place. When it comes down to it I can do without the physical, but for the time being and whilst I'm not under pressure and put on the spot I will keep my tools, I will keep my statuary and I will keep my lovely new horse skull.

Which brings me neatly on to the aforementioned horse skull. I picked it up for £80 from a stall at the Ludlow Esoteric Conference. It was a bargain. The lady who was running the stall had some fantastic 'dead stuff and their bits' and also has a website called
Occult Fetish. I had several long chats with her about what she does and to say it is mind boggling doesn't do it justice. Suffice to say that she is able to get dried crow's intestines. For all those seriously gruesome things I might need, she will be the person to speak to.

As to the purpose of the skull, my current thinking is to use it as the altar to a horse goddess. The name should be self evident. I have a few ideas as to how this will be set up and used including in the future an adaptation of the Mari Llwyd tradition. This old Welsh custom certainly bears the hallmarks of pre-Christian ritual/custom and the derivation of the name is also interesting. I have a couple of journal essays which discuss this and shall post more details in the future.

Now, the conflict that has arisen is a question; should I be using a horse skull as a means of focusing my veneration of a horse goddess?

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Mabinogi - E. P. Hamp

I didn’t go to London for the weekend multifaith event in the end, I have come down with something flu-like and so stuck at home to recover and rest. This means I have been in bed most of the weekend playing with the laptop and watching films.

Other than some household chores, I have gotten around to reading and digesting an essay I obtained discussing Pryderi and Mabon. By Mabon I do not mean the autumn equinox as some pagans seemed to have erroneously named it, including Raven Grimassi who I had a run in over this point. It can be read

Hamp’s essay essentially looks at the linguistic development of the word ‘mabinogi’ and he comes to the conclusion that it means (roughly) “Exploits of the family of Maponos”. His other conclusion is that the Family of Maponos went like this:

Tigernonos* and Rigatona** were the parents of Gwri/Pryderi, Gwri was consort of Matrona*** and their son was Maponos****. This is certainly different to most perceived genealogies of this family. I will certainly be looking at rebuttal and support for this idea. So far, I have seen P K Ford in favour of this family tree.

*Teyrnon, **Rhiannon, ***Modron, ****Mabon

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Multifaith event

This weekend I am going along to a large multifaith conference/memorial event for the 7th july bombings. Im not totally sure what i am required to do though i think Jon wants me to look after a stall which has general information on paganism. From what I understand there will also be Muslims, Christians, Hindus etc and it will all be about 'getting to know each other'. It might be enjoybale, it might be a waste of my time but as I am going with Jon and Maria i shall enjoy myself with them for sure. It isnt supposedly interfaith so I shall not be expected to try to find common ground like 'some' mewling morons who pander to the interfaith groups. I see no need to gain their approval, I dont need it, I dont want it and I will not be seeking it. On the plus side, Jon is doing a talk and running a guided meditation. I think i should be there for when he fields questions to ask something nice.

Cylch Riannon

For more of my life than not, I have been what would be regarded as a neo-pagan. I have spent over 14 years building my own spirituality, my own connection with the divine and in doing so have forged my own path towards a spirituality focused on the Brythonic mythos. The central drive of my creation of this blog is to chart my progress from this point onwards in a more diarised form than my own website -Y Baedd Gwyn
- and use this as the platform for the projects I have underway.

I am also begin to foster a relationship with Riannon/Rhiannon and as such have begun the development of an altar space with cultic horse skull at its centre. Rhiannon herself is generally misrepresented in neo-pagan circles with tripe such as canaries being a sacred to her. An integral part of my own spirituality is to look to academic sources and maake use fo those for interpretations and discussion of the myths. A perfect example would be the works of W. J Gruffydd who himself wrote a monumental inquiry into Rhiannon and her involvement in the mabinogion.

My intention is to fuse together personal gnosis and experience upon an academic foundation and from there build an honest and honourable relationship with my gods.